Hauer could have made nothing but crap after that and he’d still be iconic. To be clear, he made a lot of crap. There was direct-to-video horror, exploitation, fantasy. I myself have some affection for 1991’s Wedlock, in which he plays an escaped convict linked to another convict, played by Mimi Rogers, by collars they both wear that will explode if they get too far away from each other. This is a guy who released 11 movies in one year—2011—including Hobo with a Shotgun, which is about … eh, you get it. Hauer played the eponymous hobo.
But I want to point to one role that might mean more to GenXers than anyone, and that I’d argue did more to solidify Hauer’s future playing kings, mighty sorcerers, vampire overlords, and other big men in sumptuous robes who tell people that they either must or will never possess some magic crystal or sword of power or whatever. It’s Navarre in Ladyhawke.
Maybe you’ve never seen Ladyhawke, or maybe the medieval fantasy’s tacked-on synth-pop score pulls you out of the story. Don’t let it. Directed by Richard Donner and released in 1985, Ladyhawke manages to do fantasy with almost no special effects—Hauer plays a knight cursed to live as a wolf at, er, night, while Michelle Pfeiffer plays the woman he loves, cursed to live as a hawk during the day. See the problem? (Also, if you are wondering why you love Michelle Pfeiffer, the answer is not Grease 2. It’s her two 1985 films—Ladyhawke and Into the Night.)
Hauer’s black-armored knight, riding a horse so big it’s name is Goliath (a Dutch breed called a Friesian, which Hauer himself had owned; the movie apparently made them popular in the US), wields a short sword, a giant Zweihander, and a crossbow with two over-and-under bows. His big entrance is a fight against multiple enemies while trying to both rescue and kidnap Matthew Broderick—just go with it—and he’s a badass. But then he can also act. As much as the movie seems to slow down and stare at Pfeiffer whenever she’s on screen, Hauer holds the camera, too. He’s like a mountain who sometimes fights.
Hauer brought that apparent heft, literal and metaphoric, to every movie he made. When they were silly, he’d deliver lines with a twinkling eye. When he was supposed to be serious, you could tell he knew why he was there—to make his boat payments, sure, but also to calm the faithful. Hey, we’d say, if Hauer’s up there, maybe someone’s gonna remember Tannhauser Gates later. And you could tell he knew we thought so. He always seemed like he understood the joke. If anyone could appreciate the irony of a journeyman actor’s off-the-cuff monologue about fleeting memory making a larger-than-life character unforgettable, it was Rutger Hauer.
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